Wed. Dec 6th, 2023

The AVPMA’s chairperson Carmel Hillyard and CEO Lisa Croft have immediately resigned today following the release of a review into the culture of the authority by law firm Clayton UTZ.

The report, which was the result of an investigation triggered by an alleged incident where a senior staffer urinated on colleagues at a Christmas party, cites a range of problems, ranging from an “unacceptable volume of personnel related complaints for an  agency of its size – including allegations of serious misconduct” and high staff turnover, to being too closely aligned to the interests of the industries its meant to regulate, among others.

Other problems included significant delays in chemical reviews, with some reviews having been ongoing for over 20 years.

It was found that “on average there  was a formal complaint about once every 4-6 weeks for 5 years” with very little reporting of these matters to the board, and that staff were often dissuaded from making complaints, or responses to the making of complaints “seem potentially disproportionate”. 

There were also “serious mental health matters” raised by a number of employees. 

Agricultural Minister Senator Murray Watt promised to take “firm action” in response to the findings of the review, which Senator Watt commissioned. 

“Unfortunately, the review has uncovered serious allegations of poor governance, poor workplace governance, and poor leadership,” Minister Watt said at a press conference in Brisbane. 

In a statement released later, he continued by saying “The matters identified by the review are very serious and point to systemic problems with the administration and governance of the APVMA.”

Minister Watt has commissioned former public servant Ken Matthews AO to conduct a “rapid evaluation of the APVMA’s structure and governance”, which will include recommendations into how the Authority operates into the future.

Greens Agricultural Spokesperson Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who has long been critical of the APVMA’s performance, released a statement today saying “it’s clear that the APVMA needs to change” and was worried about the potential regulatory capture of of the Authority by those it is meant to regulate.

“This raises serious questions of the APVMA’s independence and culture, and whether it can do important work such as the timely review of registered chemicals when it’s essentially dependent on the industry for its resourcing. 

Barnaby Joyce’s decision to move APVMA to Armidale “key factor”  

The move from Canberra to Armidale, Watt said, with the disruption of the move resulting in a loss of experienced staff.

Only 15 out of 140 staff in Canberra chose to relocate. 

“I must mention that the review points to the decision made by former Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to relocate the APVMA to Armidale as one of the key factors behind the demise of good governance at the institution.” 

In a statement released in response, Senator Joyce said “Labor has no belief in Regional Australia and take you as bumpkins to be bumped off. 

“They started with removing Dungowan Dam then moved on to close the Inland Rail, then on to repossessing land to build transmission lines all over the countryside and now have started the process of moving the Australian Pesticides and Veteran [sic] Medicines Authority (APVMA) back to Canberra.”

A spokesperson for Watt said that no decision has been made about moving the Authority out of Armidale, with problems arising from the move out of Canberra, not the town of Armidale, and instead will take advice based on Matthews’ report. 

The Clayton UTZ APVMA Strategic Review Report is available to read on the DAFF website.

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